Grim US milestone, HSBC’s choice, 4,000 big bangs

HSBC headquarters is seen at the financial Central district in Hong Kong, China September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
HSBC headquarters is seen at the financial Central district in Hong Kong, China September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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The US Covid death toll passed 500,000. President Joe Biden marked the tragic figure with a short ceremony at the White House.

New York investigators secured access to Donald Trump’s tax records. The US Supreme Court refused to block an application from the Manhattan district attorney for the former president’s closely guarded documents.

Elon Musk is no longer the world’s richest person. A plunge in Tesla shares wiped $15 billion from his net worth after he tweeted that Bitcoin prices, which also fell, “do seem high.”

A Boeing 777 engine fell apart in mid-air. Metal fatigue caused a fan blade to crack, according to a preliminary assessment by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

Facebook reversed its Australian news ban. Users down under have been denied proper journalism on the site since Thursday (Feb. 18), because of an unresolved legal dispute over payment.

NASA released extraordinary new footage from Mars. Put down the snack and watch this.

What to watch for

HSBC reported solid earnings for 2020, but its future hangs in the balance. The bank made $8.8 billion in profit before tax, a 34% fall from 2019 but still good enough for it to resume dividend payouts.

HSBC makes the bulk of its revenue in Asia, and finds itself in the midst of a tug of war between China and the West. As Western politicians accuse it of doing China’s bidding in its fight to crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and elsewhere, HSBC is left with a few not-so-great options.

💔 Break up: HSBC’s business model is built on the premise that the bank serves as a bridge between East and West, but an HSBC East listed on the UK’s exchange and an HSBC West listed in Hong Kong could remove some concerns over loyalty.

🧳 Find a new home: If restructuring the bank is a bit too nuclear for HSBC heads, they could always move operations and personnel to new locales, said one compliance expert in Hong Kong. But different cities carry different concerns: a move to Hong Kong or mainland China, for example, would likely anger the US. The bank is already planning to halve its global office space.

🤷🏻‍♂️ Do nothing: It should be noted that other prominent banks have also done Beijing’s bidding from time to time. If HSBC figures that business on both sides of the Atlantic will eventually return to usual, it could wait until the whole kerfuffle blows over.

Charting the global garment workers’ struggle

For garment workers who were barely getting before the pandemic, life during Covid-19 has been difficult.

The gap keeps growing.
The gap keeps growing.

Without shoppers in the US or Europe buying as much, fashion companies canceled billions of dollars worth of orders. As long as this persists, the future of the backbone of the garment industry remains largely unclear. Brands don’t usually own factories or employ garment workers directly, but, if the pact made between three major garment manufacturer associations catches on, the imbalance of power could shift some towards workers.

A new bill for Kenyan loans

Mobile lending apps have become a go-to source of credit for Kenyans without traditional bank accounts, and a new bill seeks to clamp down on predatory loans and practices by licensing and regulating digital lending platforms in the country.

Since Safaricom’s M-Shwari debuted in 2012, the market has ballooned to include Silicon Valley-backed Tala and Branch, as well as Zenka, Opesa, and Okash, which is owned by the Norwegian software maker Opera.

While access to useful, responsible, and affordable financial products and services has risen in Kenya for more than a decade—and digital loan apps have further helped grant access to finance—the country’s unregulated app-based lenders have been accused of illegal data mining and shaming defaulters.

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